Australian Indigenous Culture Explained: A Complete Guide

Aboriginal Australians are celebrating Aboriginal culture and beliefs, including the culture and history today with indigenous Australians.


Australia is a multicultural society, and the most significant part of this multicultural milieu is the “First Peoples” of Australia, who represent the oldest surviving civilisation on Earth.


Australia has two types of indigenous people — Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people. Archaeological proof shows that these people have lived on the continent for about 70,000 years, and today roughly 650,000 indigenous people live in Australia — approximately 3% of the national population.


Most of the Indigenous Australian population is urbanised, but there are a few people who still live in remote settlements such as the sire of former church missions.


If you are curious to know more about the Indigenous culture in Australia, keep reading this post. 



1. Indigenous Culture is Still Active Today


The indigenous culture in Australia belongs to the distant past, but that doesn't mean it's extinct. Even in the 21st century, rituals, art and tales keep the Torres Strait and Aboriginal traditions truly alive.


The indigenous population continues to grow, and it is expected that over the next two decades, Australia will have more than one million indigenous people, which is nearly about 4% of the national population. 



2. They have Different Languages


Language is something that defines the true identity of the indigenous people living in Australia. The language they speak is used to express what they know and feel. For thousands of years, many different Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal languages have been spoken throughout Australia. These languages are a vibrant and unique part of the heritage. 


Studies have shown that when Europeans arrived, there were about 250 Aboriginal languages in Australia. Also, these languages had the complex grammar and comprehensive vocabulary. Presently, there are around 145 Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal languages.


However, out of them, only 18 languages are spoken by people of all age groups.  



3. Dreamtime and Tagai – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Spiritual and Cultural Identity


  • The Dreamtime - Also known as Dreaming, the Dreamtime is a term used to describe Aboriginal existence on earth, their creation, and spiritual beliefs. Most dreaming stories tell how the ancestor spirits of the Aboriginal people came to earth in human form and created rocks, plants, and different other landforms. This is the reason why sites like Uluru and Ayers Rock in Northern Territory are sacred to Aboriginal people. 


  • The Dreamtime stories, dances, ceremonies, and songs are passed through generations and represent an essential part of Australian indigenous culture.  


  • The Tagai - It is the spiritual belief system of Torres Strait Islanders, which states that everything has its place. The Tagai system connects the people to the order of the world and portrays the Torres Strait Islanders as sea people. 



4. There is No Single Indigenous Culture


The Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people in Australia have diverse social groups, each of them maintaining their own beliefs, language, and culture. Even though these groups have several similarities, many differences also exist, which are unique in their own way. 



5. Music Plays a Significant Role in Indigenous Culture


The Aboriginal instruments such as clapping sticks and the didgeridoo play a massive role in indigenous culture. Also, there are many contemporary bands and singers in Australia who highlight indigenous culture through their music.


Some of the most popular bands and singers include A.B. Original, Medics, Dan Sultan, and Emily Wurramara.



6. Indigenous Culture Is Not Just Limited to the Outback


Most of the indigenous population is urbanised. Regardless of the image of Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people, the indigenous people are not just confined to the Outback. In fact, around 44% of the indigenous population live in regional towns, 35% of them reside in major cities, and 21% live in remote areas.


This percentage clearly demonstrates that the 'First Peoples' do exist in urban areas.



7. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art


The Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal culture consist of the oldest form of art in the world. Just as various indigenous languages are unique to several cultures, Indigenous art also holds a different meaning to different cultural groups in Australia. 


Styles and colours vary from one indigenous group to the other and so do messages in the stories. Additionally, symbols are also used to describe a message, and the art form continues to tell stories that are passed on from one generation to the other.


Some of the popular art forms include dance and dot paintings, which are widely known across the world. All in all, today, indigenous art gives employment opportunities to people and has become a major cultural pride for Australia.



8. Indigenous Traditions are Passed Down through Stories


The word 'Dreaming' does not properly describe or capture the profound existence of the indigenous culture. However, it speaks about the notion 'everywhen', which is a spiritual outlook of the world, comprising of the present, past, and future.


The Dreaming still continues to exist in creatures and places surrounding us, and this cultural awareness is spread from one generation to the other in the form of rituals, oral stories, and songs. 



9. Sport is a Popular Form of Recreation in Indigenous Culture


Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung people living in Victoria had been playing Marn Grook for years. Marn Grook is a collective name given to the traditional Australian indigenous football game played by more than 100 players at celebrations and gatherings.


This game inspired the invention of Australian Rules Football, which indigenous players have primarily contributed to. Australian football is not the only sport in which Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people participate; they also excel in different areas such as netball, softball, and other Olympic sports.  



10. Wrapping Up the Post


Even today, Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities maintain strong connections to their beliefs, traditional lands, and language. They see the entire world with a spiritual lens, making them unique in their community. 


If you want to learn more about Australian Indigenous history and culture, visit the Australian Museum's website



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